Wednesday, March 28, 2018

YES! 139 times - yes.
Maryland House of Delegates votes unanimously in favor of classroom screen safety bill

Sending cheers across the country, the Maryland House of Delegates today voted unanimously to approve a measure that requires the Maryland State Department of Education to create "Health and Safety Best Practices" for the use of digital devices in Maryland classrooms.

The bill now moves into the Senate Rules Committee, which will refer the legislation to the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs (EHE) Committee. Please call the members of the Rules Committee, and ask them to move this bill forward as soon as possible.

While there is no opportunity to testify in person in any of these deliberations, please contact your Senator and ask him/her to take action and support this critical effort to protect Maryland children from avoidable harm in their classrooms.

Your Senator's contact information is here.

The Maryland House of Delegates is to be commended for their unanimous vote today; it is a display of unparalleled leadership in protecting the health and safety of all Maryland students, and preventing avoidable harm in their classrooms.

Deepest thanks to everyone who is voting, calling, writing, tweeting, sharing, liking, emailing and working so hard to get this done this year. 

Cindy Eckard

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

One Step Closer

The Maryland House of Delegates adopted amendments to HB1110 today, moving the nation's first classroom screen safety legislation one step closer to passage.  A final vote of approval from the House is expected tomorrow when the delegates reconvene.

The bill's next step will be in the Senate Rules Committee, and then on to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. 

Discussion and updates regarding amendments to the bill will be posted here in coming days. Today, however, it's time to just say thank you to all who are working so hard to protect our kids, and a special thank you to all who voted to move HB1110 forward today.

Cindy Eckard

Thursday, March 22, 2018

House Education Subcommittee Favorably Reviews
HB1110 Classroom Screen Safety legislation

LATEST: Many thanks to the House Ways and Means Committee for moving HB1110 forward for a House floor vote - scheduled for Tuesday, March 27.

UPDATE 3/22: The Montgomery County Board of Education has reconsidered its position on HB1110 and has voted unanimously tonight in support of the classroom screen safety bill.

Thank you, Delegate Luedtke and the members of the House Ways and Means Education Subcommittee who voted today in favor of this critical legislation. Thank you, Delegate Steve Arentz for sponsoring the bill. Thank you, to all the co-sponsors who are standing up for our children's health in the classroom.

And thank you to all the people who have linked arms and are working so hard to get this legislation through. We still have a long way to go. Please follow on Twitter for the latest.

So very grateful.

Cindy Eckard

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why isn't the Chair bringing this to a vote?

Both the House Ways and Means Committee Chair, Delegate Anne Kaiser, and the Education Subcommittee Chair, Delegate Eric Luedtke, represent District 14 in Montgomery County, home to Maryland's largest and most influential school district.

HB1110, the classroom screen safety bill, is now in the subcommittee's hands, but Delegate Luedtke has not brought it up for a vote. Is it because of a letter from Montgomery County Public Schools?

In its "no position" testimony for HB1110, MCPS displays a bizarre ignorance of the substantial research on the negative health impacts of digital devices, and a callous disregard for the welfare of its students, whom the schools are legally bound to protect.  MCPS blatantly prioritizes additional digital tools over the health of children:

"While well-intended, the requirement to consider and adopt proposed guidelines and procedures for the use of digital devices may, ultimately, contradict expectations of Montgomery County Public Schools to address the increased reliance and demand for digital tools in schools."

Citing literature from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that does not apply to a school setting, MCPS also strangely fails to take into account the Maryland AAP's support of the bill.

A majority of the Education Subcommittee supports the creation of statewide classroom screen safety guidelines, as do many of his Ways and Means colleagues, so why hasn't Delegate Luedtke brought it to a vote? It's undemocratic. There is no opposition and no associated costs. Just kids being protected.

Right now, the youngest of children can be required by their schools to use digital devices literally from the time they walk into the building, until the moment they walk out again. From Kindergarten through high school graduation. Without any regulation whatsoever, even though OSHA protects workers under the same circumstances.

Delegate Eric G. Luedtke  
District 14, Montgomery Co.
If Delegate Luedtke fails to bring HB1110 to a vote, he will seal the fate of children across the state, increasing their risk for myopia, dry eye disease, obesity, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression and suicide -- all related to the daily use of digital devices, according to researchers.

He will also be ignoring the position of the state's medical community, 32 co-sponsors of the bill, and the fervent support of child welfare groups across the state, and across the country.  How can one person deny the will of the people so flagrantly - especially when the health of children hangs in the balance?

All Maryland students should have a safe classroom

This bill ensures that the poorest kids in our state (not just the affluent ones in districts whose parents are well informed about this issue) have equal protections from the known hazards of classroom digital devices. The state owes all of its children a safe classroom, especially when individual school systems are ignoring warnings from physicians, pediatricians, occupational therapists, psychologists, optometrists and ophthalmologists -- all of whom provided written testimony supporting this bill.

The statistics are already piling up - myopia, obesity and suicide rates are soaring among the nation's children. Researchers point directly to the use of digital devices as the culprit. It is unconscionable to fail to protect Maryland students, when the hazards they face are actually introduced by their schools.

Delegate Luedtke, you alone will ensure that students are being protected, or harmed. Please put HB1110 up for a vote. If you let the clock run out on this bill, children will suffer needlessly.

Cindy Eckard

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

So many people to thank

The support letters for HB1110 overflowed in the House Ways & Means hearing folder on Friday, March 2.  There is no opposition to this bill. It has 32 co-sponsors representing both parties, from across the state. And the fiscal policy note indicates it will not cost the state or local districts a dime.

Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood submitted a petition signed by over a hundred of their Maryland members - mostly from Montgomery County - along with their organization's firm endorsement. 

Common Sense Media sent a letter of support, as did Prevent Blindness, the Queen Anne's County Commissioners, the Maryland State Medical Society (MedChi) and the American Academy of Pediatrics' Maryland Chapter. The Mental Health Association of Maryland also endorses HB1110.

Parents Across America submitted written testimony. The Baltimore County PTA Council and Advocates for Baltimore County Schools sent letters of endorsement and testified at the hearing. International eye care specialists Reticare and TreeHouse Eyes of Bethesda endorsed HB1110 in their written testimony. Child development experts and concerned parents across the state submitted their written support as well.

It was a long day for everyone - especially Committee members - as several bills lasted well into the evening. Our sincere thanks to Chair Anne Kaiser, Vice Chair Frank Turner and all the Committee members for their patience after such a long day, and their professional attention to this matter.

And hats off to those who stayed during the windstorm to testify on behalf of the bill, especially Delegate Steve Arentz, Leslie Weber, Julie Sugar, Pam Kasemeyer and the indomitable Ms. Rachel Faulkner. Representing the Maryland Occupational Therapy Association, Ms. Faulkner stayed all afternoon just to ask that her profession be included in this critical effort to protect Maryland students from avoidable harm in their classrooms.

Here's the video testimony. (It begins at 4:55:15) 

Let's hope that the education subcommittee members will appreciate the gravity of the public health risks facing our children, recognize the overwhelming support for this bill from the medical community, parents and child health experts, and recommend its approval. 

Cindy Eckard

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Support testimony for HB1110
Friday, March 2, 2018
Maryland House of Delegates
Ways and Means Committee

Dear Chairman Kaiser, Vice Chair Turner, and Members of the Committee:

I am writing in support of HB1110: "Public Schools - Health and Safety Guidelines and Procedures - Digital Devices." The bill's primary sponsor, Delegate Steve Arentz, represents my district and has championed this effort to protect Maryland's children from the growing list of health risks associated with the use of the schools' digital devices.

It is encouraging to see so many members of the House Ways and Means Committee as co-sponsors of this crucial effort: Delegates Buckel, Ebersole, Hornberger, Patterson, Rose, Shoemaker and Tarlau, thank you. This is a vitally important bill and your support is deeply appreciated.

Just this week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released data showing that obesity remains epidemic among children - and that diabetes and heart disease are a growing problem, as a result. The AAP also announced this week that teenagers should be screened annually for depression, given the recent dramatic spike in teen suicides. Ophthalmologists report that myopia is also impairing our children, leading to problems in school, and posing additional risks for blindness later in life from associated glaucoma, cataracts and retinal detachment.

All of these conditions - and more, such as sleeplessness, anxiety and addiction - are related to the daily use of digital devices according to researchers.

HB1110 brings MSDE together with MDH and a group of medical experts, the teachers' union, MABE, and parents to craft guidelines that will protect Maryland's children from avoidable harm, while they learn new technologies.

This effort has overwhelming support statewide and nationwide from the medical community, child health advocates, county elected officials and parents. The Maryland State Medical Society (MedChi), the American Academy of Pediatrics' Maryland chapter, and the Mental Health Association of Maryland all endorse HB1110. Queen Anne's County Commissioners support this legislation. They are joined by Prevent Blindness America, Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, Parents Across America, and Common Sense Media, who has just launched a campaign to combat the health problems associated with digital device use.

These advocates and experts all agree: the unregulated use of school digital devices is a serious threat to children's health and preventative steps must be taken to ensure that Maryland students are protected. HB1110 creates a statewide framework of safety guidelines for local districts to adopt, enabling our children to master technology, without being harmed in the process.

Your favorable review of the legislation will make the difference in the health of every Maryland student, now and in the future.

Thank you for your consideration,

Cindy Eckard